I can't get my head around this - could really use the help of all the gurus here:

I have been trying to solo over a minor chord progression (the Solo is in Phrygian). I am using a pentatonic Phrygian scale for the solo (leaving out the 4th and 6th notes), yet the solo sounds very dissonant to me.

I am in the key of C♯, the chord progression is: i / III / VI (C♯ Min/E Maj/A Maj).

The Riff alternates on these notes: C♯3, D, E, G♯, B.

Any ideas about how I can pull this off ?

  • Welcome to Music.SE! What is the progression? It's going to be hard for us to determine why something sounds dissonant if we don't know the underlying chords. – Richard Apr 9 '18 at 21:20
  • Hi Richard, Thank you .. great hearing from you.. Iam on C# key , The chord progression is: i / III / VI (C# Min/E Maj/A Maj) The Riff alternates on these notes: C3, D, E, G# ,B – I.Doe Apr 9 '18 at 21:31
  • Does your riff really use C3, or does it use a C#? I'd imagine that the C3 would sound pretty dissonant, especially in the key of C# minor. – Dekkadeci Apr 10 '18 at 0:24
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    Not understanding 'Phrygian pentatonic'. You leave out 4 and 6? C# Phrygian has C# D E F# G# A and B. Leave out G# and B? But they're in the riff...And any C, even C3, isn't there anyway. – Tim Apr 10 '18 at 6:17
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    Hi Dekkadece, Riff alternates on these Notes C#, D, E ,G#, B ( I made a mistake on the original post with C3 I mean C# ). Hi Tim, I am leaving the F# and B out of the Phrygian Pentatonic so the only notes I am soloing on are C#, D, E, G#, A, B. Check this out .. music.stackexchange.com/questions/69779/… – I.Doe Apr 10 '18 at 10:04

It's tough to know exactly what's sounding dissonant, but I'll take a shot at this one.

When soloing, there are pitches we call "avoid notes" (see In Jazz, what is an avoid note?).

Depending on your style, there's one particular pitch you'll want to avoid in case it sounds too dissonant. Above your C♯ tonic, you might not want to emphasize the D♮ too much, since it's the ♭9. If this C♯ were the dominant, that ♭9 would work really well. But since this is above the tonic chord, it may be too dissonant. Again, this depends on exactly what style you're playing. If this is obviously a Phrygian piece, the ♭9 could work great. Maybe you're expecting it to sound too "minor"?

Otherwise, this scale works really well above the E and A major chords. Again depending on the style, you may not want to emphasize the G♯ too much above A, but it could also sound great depending on what you're going after.


First, as Richard pointed out, the flat second in the Phrygian mode, in this case 'D' sticks out and it is not contained in any your supporting chords. I would strongly suggest that if you are trying to evoke the Phrygian mode, try using f#min and c#min as your primary harmonies. Emaj and Dmaj would help round out a progression. You could also base the progression between E7 and bmin, but would depend upon your riff. Also, you might want to try and use all 7 notes in your riff if you can to hammer home that you are using the phrygian mode. Using less notes BTW, one of my favorite passages in the Phrygian mode is the second movement from Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo.

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